Relationships 101: Your Tone & Manner Matter as Much as Your Message

To Pajamas Media Advice:

Reading your columns, it sounds like you have an opinion on EVERYTHING and ADVICE for EVERYONE.  So what’s your opinion on THIS and YOUR ADVICE for ME?

I said SOMETHING to a friend when we were together last March and EVER SINCE she hasn’t seen, emailed, or spoken to me ONCE.  I don’t have a CLUE what I said that was so WRONG. I NEVER INTENDED TO HURT HER FEELINGS.

I’ve emailed her NUMEROUS TIMES to ask WHAT I SAID and she WON’T REPLY.  I’m a 68-year-old WOMAN without ANY close friends. What DO YOU HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THIS WITH ALL YOUR OPINIONS AND ADVICE?

Clueless in Cleveland

Dear Clueless,

I’m sorry you've apparently lost a friend, and even sorrier that you believe you have no others.

I don’t think this friendship can be saved. By saying that you didn’t intend any harm, it sounds as if you think you deserve a pass.

The problem is that unintentional acts can be just as hurtful as intentional ones. Crimes of omission can cause the same injury as those of commission.

Assuming the friendship that ended in March is irretrievable, the best advice I can offer is to suggest some lessons you could learn from this experience to apply in the future.

For starters, has anyone ever mentioned to you that using ALL CAPITAL LETTERS in an email is considered the written equivalent of yelling?  Your habit of doing so might alone account for the waning of that friendship, irrespective of what you said in person last March.

The manner in which we speak or write is as important as the content of our messages.

I’d be loath to correspond or converse with anyone who’s unable to keep his or her vocal volume in check. No one wants to receive messages, either spoken or in writing, in the form of a yell.

As a means of communication under non-emergency circumstances, screaming is egregiously annoying, unpleasant, obnoxious, and rude.

Indeed, except for the fact that it's my job to respond to emails for advice, I myself might not have replied to an email as replete with yelling, as well as with hostility, as yours was to me.

I agree with your inference that if your former friend wanted to have anything more to do with you, she would have given you chapter and verse of what you said to hurt or offend her.

There are usually three main reasons that people refrain from responding to emails such as the ones you wrote asking your former friend what you said that offended her.

The first is that many people believe that if the other person is truly incapable of fathoming what he or she did or said that was hurtful, there’s no point in trying to spell it out.


Because they feel that if they’re dealing with someone with so little self-awareness that the person is unable to analyze what took place, there is no point in continuing a relationship with someone who’s incapable of the self-awareness and capacity for introspection that undergird enjoyable and mutually supportive interpersonal relationships, also known as friendships.